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Arizona Wildlife Federation Blog

The Arizona Wildlife Federation Blog is published at least once monthly. If you'd like to write in a guest blog submission, please email

Blog posts reflect the opinions and perspectives of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of the Arizona Wildlife Federation.

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  • January 25, 2024 3:46 PM | Anonymous

    Mearns’ quail digging a feeding pit. Photo Courtesy of Mark Stromberg.

    Author: Mark Stromberg, U of A Adjunct Professor

    Have you heard of the Mearns’ Quail Project?

    This project’s ultimate goal is to plant food plots for Mearns’ quail in order to support and increase the Mearns’ quail population in Arizona. Partners working on this include Tucson Audubon, Borderlands Restoration Network Native Plant Nursery, U.S. Forest Service, Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation, and Southern Arizona Quail Forever. Hunters can help enhance the food plot plantings by providing crops from their harvested Mearns' quail. At this past year’s QuailFest — an amazing event hosted by our affiliate Southern Arizona Quail Forever — hunters were encouraged to bring their crops to support this project — and they did!

    Understanding the diet of a game bird reveals which parts of the landscape are critical, and for Mearns’ quail — also known as Montezuma quail — among the most important foods are nodules produced on the roots of a few different plants: nutsedge, Oxalis, and the tepary bean.

    Quail hunters, working with wildlife researchers, have played a critical role in determining the diet of Mearns’ quail. This project goes a long way in improving the habitat quality of Mearns’ quail, and hunters are a huge part of that.

    Mearns’ fall crop with contents. The larger brown nodules are nutsedge and the smaller, often white nodules are from Oxalis. Seeds form only a small percentage of the diet. Photo Courtesy of Mark Stromberg.

    Among species of quail, Mearns’ have extraordinarily long toes, including a central toe used for digging. As such, Mearns’ quail dig up most of their food. They dig many conical holes, just about as deep as they can settle into. A majority of their diet are acorns, as they are most common in the oak savannas. Acorns underground? Their neighbor, the Mexican jay, a member of the genus Aphelocoma, is known to bury and then later find over 5,000 acorns over the course of a year! When Emory oaks have a good crop of acorns, Mexican jays spend all day hiding acorns under leaves. Later on, Mearns’ quail find some of these acorns.

    Nutsedge is an ephemeral monsoon forb, or herbaceous flowering plant, that is a dietary favorite of Mearns' quail. The root nodule is shown in the left photo and the native nutsedge is shown on the right. Photo Courtesy of Mark Stromberg.

    Plants with underground nodules are important in the Mearns’ diet. Most abundant in the crops of Mearns’ quail are nutsedge and Oxalis. Nutsedge, as shown in the two photos above, grows in shady, riparian areas, with sedge-like stems, triangular in cross-section.

    Root nodules of Oxalis, as shown in the left image. The plant’s leaves resemble a four-leaf clover. Photo Courtesy of Angel Montoya.

    Oxalis grows during the monsoon season in riparian, shady habitats with good soil moisture, as shown in the photo on the right. Another important food plant for Mearns’ is the native tepary bean, (Phaseolus acutifolius). If these plants are grazed to the ground before they can produce root nodules, food supplies for Mearns’ will be limited.

    Native tepary bean plant and seeds grown from Mearns' quail crop contents from the Santa Rita mountains. Photo Courtesy of Mark Stromberg.

    Are you interested in participating in the Mearns’ Quail Project or know a hunter who might be? For a pre-paid shipping box to send quail crops to the program, contact: Aya Picket, Tucson Audubon, Restoration Project Manager, 520-627-8120

    A very special thank you to the partners of this project and the hunters who have supported it through their participation!

  • December 28, 2023 9:01 AM | Anonymous

    Author: Elise Lange, AWF Communications Manager

    I won’t lie. I was startled the first time I saw snow on a saguaro cactus. As a native Arizonan who has lived most of her life in Phoenix — the hottest large city in the U.S. — that particular sight is not one I’m used to. It seems an odd combination — a green cactus, covered with spines, that is known for adapting to the heat as opposed to dealing with cold, white, fluffy snow.

    Nevertheless, while Arizona is known for its incredibly hot temperatures, it’s also a fantastic winter destination — especially if you’re hoping to enjoy some outdoor recreation time. While many states have winter seasons so extreme that they might frighten off even the most experienced hiker, skier, or snowboarder, Arizona has much milder winters, making for plentiful opportunities to get outdoors and experience the beauty of Arizona’s landscapes. Additionally, the diversity of Arizona’s landscapes offers a myriad of winter activities, from traditional winter fun like skiing or sledding in the mountains to hiking in the low deserts (something that’s not recommended in the summer!).

    Consider adding these three destinations to your list of places to visit and recreate in this winter season.

    1. The Grand Canyon

    Courtesy of Grand Canyon National Park.

    How could I not mention the Grand Canyon on this list? If you thought seeing snow on saguaros was a cool sight, just wait till you see the utter majesty of the Grand Canyon covered in snow. The North Rim of the canyon typically receives the heaviest snowfall, averaging about 142 inches each year — though I have to mention that in 1978, the North Rim received a record snowfall of 272 inches. That’s about 23 feet deep. I recommend checking the weather before you visit so you’re prepared for whatever this winter season plans to offer! The South Rim typically receives less snow, averaging just around 58 inches of snow annually.

    Another major benefit to exploring the canyon during winter is that the trails and paths are far less visited. So, if you’re not a fan of crowds, winter is the perfect time for you to make a trip with your friends and family.

    If you decide to visit, get ready to see the fantastic contrast of the snow with the green flora sprinkled across the warm reds, browns, and oranges of our Grand Canyon.

    2. Arizona Nordic Village in Flagstaff

    The Arizona Nordic Village (formerly the Flagstaff Nordic Center) is a great destination for snowsports enthusiasts, hikers, and campers. This cross-country ski resort has been open since 1984 — that’s nearly four decades! The original lodge and many ski trails from when they first opened are still in use today. They have over 24 miles of trails designed for both skate and classic cross-country skiing, trails for snowshoeing, hiking, and fat tire biking. They also have cabins, yurts, and campsites available for longer stays.

    Currently (at the writing of this blog), there’s not quite enough snow on the ground for skiing, snowshoeing, or fat tire biking at the village. They’re resting at just about 10 inches and will continue to update on their website. However, all of their trails are still open and available for hiking until then, making for a great opportunity to enjoy the cooler weather and do some wildlife watching.

    If you’re new to snowsports, you’re not alone — 42% of Americans have never been skiing, as of 2022. Arizona residents are lucky enough to live in a state that has a variety of landscapes, and thus, a variety of climates, offering a wide diversity of opportunities for outdoor recreation. So, if you’re new to outdoor recreation in the snow, we encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and try something new this winter season!

    3. Whitewater Draw in McNeal

    Winter is an exciting time for birders across Arizona because many bird species spend their winters here. Of course, they are also coming for our climate! From white-crowned sparrows to Lewis's woodpeckers, there are plenty of avian winter visitors to take notice of.

    One of the most well-known migratory birds that spend their winters in Arizona is the Sandhill Crane. Each year around November, this species starts arriving to their wintering grounds, including at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area in southern Arizona. Most years we expect to see around 20,000 to 25,000 cranes at this location, making it a favorite attraction for bird watchers and enthusiasts, photographers, and hunters alike.

    If you arrive around dusk or dawn, you’ll get the chance to see thousands of these three to four-foot-tall birds taking flight, making for a truly unforgettable viewing experience.

    Where will you plan to visit this winter in Arizona?

  • November 30, 2023 9:59 AM | Anonymous

    Author: Tanja Eiben

    The Becoming an Outdoors-Woman team has realized that the best way to get women involved in hunting is to begin at the end. What? Yup! Begin at the end of the hunt. The Friday evening icebreaker at the BOW workshops is a game taste. We might serve javelina chile or deep-fried bobcat. Most try everything and are surprised at how tasty our wild dishes are.

    Add a charismatic enthusiastic instructor and magic happens. Because BOW is about breaking down barriers, we offer a big game field dressing class and a butchering class. John Davis has taught these two classes this year. We use a domestic goat for both classes. In April he was able to get a Barbary ram!

    The students in these classes asked John for a deer camp similar to the javelina camp that one of our BOW leaders, Kathy Greene, does. He took it to heart and made it happen. He found sponsors with Safari Club International and the Outdoor Skills Network and rounded up a fantastic group of mentors. We were also able to get donations to pay for the food and porta-potties at the campsite from Yuma Desert Doves — Women On The Wing Pheasants Forever Chapter, Yuma Valley Rod and Gun Club, and Valley of the Sun Quail Forever Chapter.

    End result was 40 people total with 19 deer tags, at least half of which were BOW alumni! There were guest speakers, one-on-one instruction, and 4 deer harvested. All had a great time and everybody helped with camp duties. I especially appreciated John telling the group that this camp was not about taking a deer, it was about learning.

    -Linda Dightmon, Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) Administrator 

    Tanja’s Deer Hunt

    Over the 2023 Veteran’s Day weekend, I got to participate in a mentored Adult Beginners Deer Hunting Camp that paired beginner hunters and observers with an experienced volunteer mentor to teach and showcase them the skills necessary to hunt such an animal.

    My volunteer mentor, Lera Petska, is a professional hunting guide and volunteers her time to a variety of mentored camps. I immediately liked her when she introduced me to her canine sidekick, Jones, a big Catahoula mix. Our little group was completed by Alex Stricklin, who came as an “observer”, with lots of curiosity to learn and enthusiasm about experiencing a hunt.

    Our three-girl/one-dog team roamed the hills south of Arivaca, Arizona. Lera’s Forerunner took us on some of the nastiest and steepest roads I have ever conquered from the inside of a vehicle. That first day we saw quite a few deer and one buck, but could not get close enough for a shot.

    The second day of our hunt was spent in the same fashion, as we covered miles and miles of beautiful Arizona desert and glassed countless hills and mountainsides. We got within less than a mile of the border to Mexico and then worked our way back up north. Despite not seeing any bucks, the time spent with Lera was not for nothing. I learned so much from her about deer behavior, like how to use the sun and the time of the day to gauge their activity level. There was lots of gear talk, as well as GIRL talk and mutual sharing of experiences in regard to health, relationships, and the challenges of an active lifestyle. Despite coming from very different backgrounds the three of us discovered countless similarities and formed a bond as a team. Jones claimed special status when he managed to get into my cooler bag. I came back to find that he had wolfed down my lunch sandwich, the boiled eggs, and all my cheese sticks! But those droopy hound eyes did their magic and I just could not be mad at him!

    I could tell that Lera was getting frustrated because all the great deer areas were packed with other hunters and it was really difficult to get away from the crowds. On the third and last morning, we made one final push and, still in the dark, using some very questionable roads, drove way out to a very remote canyon that we started glassing before the sun came up. Suddenly Lera approached me and asked, “What do you think about getting a buck with one antler?” I responded, “That would be a cool animal, a real character buck with a story!”

    Within minutes, all three of us were on our way, hugging the hillside and making our way up the steep slope to a high viewpoint over the canyon. This was the first time I actually had a rifle in a carrier tied to the back of my backpack. Lera’s gun had a bipod and a huge scope and the unfamiliar weight made me feel unbalanced. But it was so worth carrying it, as the scope was vital in spotting a buck on the hillside across the canyon about 450 yards away from us. Lera set up the rifle and by using various packs, we constructed a pretty solid rest that I could lay on and find a comfortable position with full view, control of the gun stock, and access to the trigger.

    While we were adjusting the rifle, Alex declared “He just bedded down!”. Thankfully, she had kept an eye on the buck the whole time and was able to show us exactly the yucca plant under which he decided to lay down. I could just about make out his silhouette as well as his head with the flickering ears moving and with the help of a sunspot on his fur, Lera was able to point out the exact location of the vitals to me. I decided to take the shot while he was still lying down and being pretty much motionless, as I had a clear visual. Lera made sure we were all wearing ear protection and gave me the ok.

    Things got pretty intense in my head, as I tried to take long, slow breaths and it took several attempts until I could find a moment of stillness after exhaling. I also prayed that I would not pull the gun with the trigger, an annoying bad habit I do sometimes. The gun went off and jumped and I lost sight of my all too familiar yucca plant. Lera yelled “He is down. One shot! You really know how to shoot!” I could not believe that this had finally happened and that we had the best possible scenario of a fast, clean kill. This was the moment when I put my head on my arms and shed some tears…of relief and gratefulness about just having taken a wonderful animal.

    When we found the deer about 45 minutes later there were several surprises. It was a rather big-bodied buck for a whitetail and he had TWO antlers, one 3-point, and the other side being deformed and ending in one point. I was super excited about my special buck and so thankful that Lera helped us with taking professional photos…of the deer and of all three of us!

    When we started gutting, it suddenly felt like a deja vu, exactly like what we had been practicing in the field dressing classes at BOW camp. Then, with our help, my badass mentor lifted the 80-pound deer on her shoulders and carried him out!

    Back at camp, fortunately, I had lots of help with skinning and quartering the deer. Despite having gone through these steps in previous BOW classes, it was intimidating, as for the first time I completed the whole process from start to finish on my own animal. Thankfully, several participants and mentors stepped in when needed and gave tips and a helping hand.

    My character buck — the first big-game animal I’ve gotten — will be showcased in a Euro mount, a throw made from his hide, and will make lots of wonderful dishes for my family and friends.

  • October 26, 2023 1:12 PM | Anonymous

    Author: George H. Harrison.

    When the sun goes down and songbirds disappear into cover to roost, you might think that backyard wildlife watching is finished for the day. But the truth is that when darkness sets in, there is merely a change of characters on the backyard stage. The diurnal wildlife goes undercover and the nocturnal animals appear.

    Because it’s dark, it may be more difficult to see the new cast of wild animals, but they are there and you don’t need owl vision to watch them.

    How to Enjoy Wildlife at Night in Your Own Backyard:

    1. Install a spotlight that shines on your bird feeders, and turn it on periodically after dark.

    You may be surprised to find a number of birds and mammals carrying on at the feeders. Flying squirrels are especially common backyard residents that hang upside down on tube feeders munching on nyjer, sunflower and wild birdseed mix. Ten o’clock is a good time to look for them. Raccoons, opossums, rabbits and mice are likely nighttime visitors, too. In some regions, deer and elk also eat from bird feeders at night.

    2. Keep the birdbath water flowing all-night.

    It will attract a variety of wildlife that can be watched with the aid of a spotlight trained on the water source. In my yard, I remember watching an eastern screech owl having a drink at midnight on a New Year’s Eve.

    3. Cover the lens of a flashlight with a piece of red plastic wrap or tissue paper (you can use a rubber band to secure the filter).

    The eyes of many nocturnal creatures do not pick up the red end of the light spectrum, so you can shine this colored light on wildlife with minimal disturbance. The red light may also help your eyes adjust to the darkness.

    4. Look for earthworms in damp soil.

    Earthworms and other moist-skinned creatures take cover during the day to protect their bodies from the drying effects of the sun. On warm nights, they strike out in search of food. If you spot silvery trails across the ground, you can be certain slugs or snails are nearby (they produce a slimy substance to help them move about). Check low-growing plants in garden beds, woods and other moist places for these mollusks.

    5. Step outside after dark and listen—the night is full of sounds.

    Most of the year, owls can be heard, each calling their own distinct hoot or whine. In the spring and fall, tree frogs are also common nighttime songsters in many areas; they sound so much like birds that most listeners are fooled. Every spring in the wetlands adjacent to my home, I can hear tiny aquatic frogs sing their mating chants, producing a chorus of peeps, chirps and continuous chords. During breeding season, especially when the moon is full, northern mockingbirds may be at the top of their song, whistling and chirping dozens of different noise imitations. Black-crowned and yellow-crowned night-herons may be barking and squawking during spring and summer nights. A whip-poor-will may be calling incessantly from the nearby woodland.

    6. Hang a bed sheet in your yard and shine a white light directly on it.

    Insects are a big part of the nighttime backyard show. Depending on the season, the sounds of crickets, cicadas, and katydids may be so loud that they drown out other woodland sounds. Fireflies can be spotted flashing their mating lights, and moths of all sizes are attracted to patio or spotlights in the warm weather.

    7. You may be able to watch spiders from the comfort of your home if you leave a porch light on overnight.

    The light will draw insects that, in turn, will draw spiders looking for a feast. You can also head outdoors with flashlight in hand and embark on a spider safari. Look on the ground for trapdoor and wandering spiders; seek out web builders in bushes or on fences.

    8. Just before dark during warm weather, look up in the sky for chimney swifts and common nighthawks chasing insects on the wing.

    Both species range throughout much of the country. The smaller swifts make a chattering sound, while the nighthawks give a peent call. In some areas in late summer and early fall, masses of nighthawks can be seen around sunset as they migrate south.

    9. If you’re a fan of high-tech gadgets, consider purchasing a night-vision viewing device such as goggles.

    It will offer an entirely new dimension to wildlife watching after sunset by painting the nighttime world in a soft, greenish light.

    Originally Published by the National Wildlife Federation:

  • September 28, 2023 10:11 AM | Anonymous

    Author: Elise Lange, AWF Communications Manager

    Each year, we celebrate National Public Lands Day and National Hunting and Fishing Day on the fourth Saturday in September. On this day, hunters, anglers, and wildlife watchers head outside and explore public lands familiar or new to them. Families visit their states’ national parks — free of entry, of course. New generations are introduced to the heritage of hunting, angling, and conservation. The day is rich with American’s utter appreciation for our public lands.

    This year was the 51st annual celebration of National Hunting and Fishing Day and the 30th annual celebration of National Public Lands Day! 

    What started in 1972 with the presidential proclamation, “I urge all citizens to join with outdoor sportsmen in the wise use of our natural resources and in ensuring their proper management for the benefit of future generations,” has grown into a movement to recruit new hunters and anglers while increasing public awareness of the connection between hunting, angling, and conservation.

    Similarly, National Public Lands Day’s 1994 beginnings with one federal agency, two public land sites, and 700 volunteers has grown into a national event that brings out hundreds of thousands of volunteers at sites all over the U.S. Several states, including Arizona (more on that below) even have their own public lands days now.

    But these days are not only about volunteering your time for trail maintenance or hunter recruitment. These two holidays that share their birthday each year are about reminding us how much the great outdoors is part of our identities as Americans. These holidays are about actually getting outside and enjoying our public lands! We are encouraged to get out and hunt, hike, fish, climb, explore, camp, and photograph our public lands. 

    These lands belong to the American public — you!

    With that “ownership” comes responsibility. We are the stewards of these lands and we are responsible for ensuring that our children, their children, and all future generations can experience and enjoy our public lands the way we do today. 

    This year, the Arizona Wildlife Federation celebrated these holidays with the launch of our new monthly hikes program. For this inaugural hike on Saturday, September 23rd, we partnered with the Arizona Trails Association and the Tonto National Forest to bring over 20 hikers on an exploration of the Highline trail near Pine. We used iNaturalist to identify flora and fauna of the area and made connections with new people all the way from Tempe to Payson.

    Our supporters might remember that we hosted a hike on April 1st, 2023 — which just so happens to be Arizona’s own Public Lands Day holiday! We celebrate Arizona Public Lands Day on the first Saturday of April each year. The bill creating the holiday was drafted in 2019 by a team of conservationists led by our own Brad Powell, Past President of the AWF. 

    That hike on Arizona Public Lands Day last April was the inspiration for us to continue hosting monthly hikes for the public. It’s a great opportunity for folks to join us and learn about Arizona’s incredible public lands, native wildlife, and endless recreation opportunities.

    These holidays serve as important reminders of all we have to be thankful and responsible for as American citizens. 

    It’s also important to remember that on the days we don’t formally celebrate hunting, fishing, or our public lands, we can still get outside, enjoy, and steward our state’s natural resources. What we give any day to the great outdoors, it gives back tenfold. We hope our hikes will keep that thought fresh in our minds each month.

    If you would like to join AWF on future hikes, we will be hosting a hike once a month on our state's diverse public lands. Check the events page on our website for upcoming hikes:

  • August 24, 2023 3:04 PM | Anonymous

    Author: Patrick Bauman, Owner of Colter Backcountry  and Get Outdoors Arizona Member

    One morning, almost a year ago, I found myself standing on the side of Arizona’s highway 67 at 6am toting a neatly packed backcountry kit and dangling a frozen thumb in the air. To my right, my less-than-thrilled girlfriend* smiled at the infrequent passing cars. Stuck after an unfortunate shuttling glitch, we were attempting to hitch hike to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The goal: complete a rim-to-rim hike, from the north side to the south. The secondary goal: fish Bright Angel Creek at the bottom of the canyon.

    *We are, I’m glad to report, still happily together, despite this cold misadventure in hitch hiking.  

    Now, for those who like their fishing with a side of physical discomfort and spectacular views: boy, do I have something for you! Most things named “great” or “grand” have a difficult time living up to their name. If you haven’t been, there’s one thing you need to know about the Grand Canyon: it delivers. Running nearly 300 miles in length, 18 miles across, and averaging over a mile deep, this canyon is, in fact, grand. Prior to this adventure, I had seen what 99% of Grand Canyon visitors see – the view from the top. On this trip, we would start on the North Rim, hike the North Kaibab trail down to Bright Angel Campground, spend the night, and then hike up the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim. This itinerary would be around 25 miles, lose almost 6,000 feet and gain almost 5,000 feet.

    We had started trip planning months ago when we secured a backcountry camping permit in January. At the time, lodging was scarce, and all accommodations on the North Rim were booked. So, we elected to stay at Jacob Lake Inn, a 40-minute drive from the North Rim. On our first day, we drove up from Phoenix, parked at the South Rim, and then hopped on a 4-hour shuttle that drove us to Jacob Lake. Despite assurances over the phone that a shuttle was available from Jacob Lake to the North Rim, we found out upon arrival that we didn’t have a ride to the trailhead. After dinner, we settled on the only plan we could think of: hitching a ride.

    The next morning, in the pre-dawn cold, we didn’t have to wait long. We were picked up by a friendly cardiologist and after an hour of pleasant chit-chat, we were filling our water bladders at the trailhead. At over 8,000 feet in elevation, the north rim is cool and forested compared with the rest of the park.

    As you hike down beneath the rim, you’ll start to pass through various rock layers. Limestone turns to sandstone, and sandstone gives way to shale. As the geology changes, so do the people. Cross body purses are replaced by trekking poles and stylish loafers slowly turn into Altras. Keep probing the depths of this canyon and you’ll probably even come across the rarest of creatures: an ultra-runner!

    Despite the menagerie of people, I was the only one carrying any kind of fishing gear. For much of its length, the North Kaibab trail runs alongside Bright Angel Creek, which eventually runs into the Colorado River. Originally home to native fish like the humpback chub, Bright Angel Creek now has populations of browns and rainbows as well. Known as a good fishery, it’s one of the more difficult trout spots to access in Arizona.

    As we hiked down, the weather grew warmer and warmer. By lunch, we had descended nearly 6,000 feet and had a relatively flat hike through Bright Angel Canyon to reach our campground. Despite colder weather on the rims, the bottom of the canyon is typically as hot as Phoenix. In this case, the high temperatures were well into the 90s.

    By mid-afternoon, we had reached Bright Angel campground. After setting up camp, we stopped at Phantom Ranch for a refreshing drink and afternoon snack. In between sips of lemonade, I quickly went to work rigging my rod. The campground area is pretty crowded, so I made my way upstream to some quieter water.

    Like many Arizona waters, Bright Angel Creek has a sand and gravel bottom and is housed in rock ledges and sprinkled with larger boulders. Unlike most Arizona waters, it is framed by the Grand Freakin’ Canyon. The views looking up while fishing are incredible.

    I fished the rest of the afternoon, catching only rainbows on a variety of flies. The fish were mostly concentrated under rock ledges and in deeper runs and plunge pools. This time of year, the water was crystal clear. Despite being near a trail, the creek feels remote, and the only visitors I had were a mule deer doe and fawn. As the light faded below the canyon walls, I headed back to camp for a hearty dinner.

    The next morning, we were up in the dark to tackle the climb up the South Rim before the sun rose too high. On this section, hikers are treated to fantastic views of the Colorado River as they transfer to the Bright Angel Trail. We moved upward with the sun, past the River Rest House and Plateau Point, and ate a full breakfast at Havasupai Gardens. We pushed onward through a throng of out-of-breath day-hikers wearing jeans who seemed baffled that we had come from the other side. Eventually we made it to the top, and after a quick rest, got back in the car to Flagstaff, in search of pizza and cold beer.

    For those interested: a rim-to-rim hike is well worth it. Whether you do it in one day or multiple, you’ll be amazed at just how much beauty lies within the inner folds of the canyon. And for those who like fishing, well, make sure to pencil in a free afternoon and pack along an extra rod. It’s always worth being the only weirdo carrying fishing gear.

    To read more blogs like this one, check out Colter Backcountry.

  • July 07, 2023 9:52 AM | Anonymous

    Author: Elise Lange, AWF Communications Manager

    Now that it’s officially summertime, Arizonans are preparing for the heat! Most people who live in this great state will tell you that we’re grateful for the weather so far — in June, the highest temperature we reached was only about 105 degrees — a far cry off from the record temperature of 122 degrees in June 1990. But the truth is that even for the most devout outdoors person, it’s challenging to find the motivation to get outdoors during the hotter months of the year. 

    Depending on the activity you enjoy most outside, there’s a chance that you won’t struggle to keep cool outdoors. For one, fishing and other water recreational activities are great ways to enjoy the outdoors still and beat the heat. Bonus — if you go fishing and are successful, you’ll bring home food for your family! Hunting can be a challenge during the summer as well, but luckily like fishing, there are cooler spots in the state that you can go to during the summer, as long as you don’t mind making a trip out of it. However, depending on where you want to fish or hunt, you may still have a long, hot trek to your destination.

    If you’re like me and enjoy hiking and wildlife watching, you’ll know all too well the same struggles that hunters and anglers experience during the summer. The sun beating down on you as you hike over long, burning grass, sand, or rocky soil, uphill, downhill, and the feeling of sweat on your back — this is an experience we’ve all had.

    So what can we do? How can we actually beat the heat to still enjoy the great outdoors?

    For one — everyone says it and I’ll say it again: water, water, water! Bring more water than you think you’ll need and you’ll be much happier. 

    For two — ice! Bring ice with you wrapped in a towel and wrap it around your neck periodically when you really feel the sun.

    Alright, so water and ice — these are pretty basic ways to stay cool. 

    But let’s think more critically about this.

    Pay closer attention to what you wear. A hat is great, but a hat that can wick sweat is even better. Pay attention to the material of the clothes you wear too. Both cotton and linen are some of the best fabrics for staying cool and most outdoor clothing companies already manufacture clothes in those materials that are also made to be durable outdoors. 

    Let’s now think in terms of Arizona wildlife. They don’t need sweat-wicking hats or cotton hiking pants to stay cool. So how do they do it?

    Native animals in Arizona are so well-adapted to the heat that it hardly matters when we reach those record-heat days. One of their best ways to stay cool is through evaporative cooling: when a coyote pants or a vulture urinates on their legs, that’s evaporative cooling.

    Now, we don’t necessarily advocate for you to start panting or urinating on your legs, but it’s important to know that humans also use evaporative cooling! When we sweat, that liquid absorbs the heat from our bodies as it evaporates and becomes a gas. So while sweating is uncomfortable, it’s how your body works to stay cool.

    The heat changes throughout the day, so it’s only natural that our behavior should also change. Try getting outdoors during the cooler parts of the day, like before sunrise and after sunset. By doing this, you’re following the schedules of some of our native animals, who definitely know how to survive and thrive in the heat. 

    By fishing before sunrise, not only are you outdoors in the cooler part of the day, you’re more likely to encounter fish, who are more active in the morning. If you go for a hike at nighttime, you’ll get a better view of the stars and see some of Arizona’s nocturnal animals like bats, who enjoy the cooler night air as they hunt for insects.

    In closing, there are some basic ways to stay cool that most Arizonans know already (though we’re awfully good at being tough enough to withstand little accessible water). But by looking at our native animals and recognizing the behaviors they exhibit during the summer, we can better deal with the heat and enjoy the outdoors year-round. After all, that’s what the outdoors is there for!

  • June 23, 2023 9:29 AM | Anonymous

    Pygmy blue butterfly (Brephidium exile) in Upper Vista Park (photo by Doug Danforth)

    Author: Keith Ashley, AWF Development Director

    In the four weeks between my April and May visits to Project Wildlife, Bisbee, something amazing happened – thousands of colorful, native blossoms unfurled their bounty of nectar and pollen in the Upper Vista Park and in a patchwork of smaller gardens all around town.  If I were an Arizona pollinator – say an owlet moth or a pygmy blue butterfly – I’m pretty sure this would be like a whole fleet of food trucks and a hundred new bar-and-grills throwing open their doors and inviting me in for a spring feast.

    Even more impressive: In the eight months since the small group of volunteers behind Project Wildlife, Bisbee set their sights on certifying their town as a National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Community Wildlife Habitat, the participation and support of neighbors, local government, civic clubs, partnering nonprofits, and others has been enormous and inspiring.

    The nearly two-acre Upper Vista Park was placed in the hands of Project Wildlife by the City of Bisbee to refurbish with native plants. 350 feet of irrigation lines were donated and installed by the Arizona Water Company; the land was contoured and fencing was put up by the City of Bisbee to discourage javelina; several generous grants and sponsorships were awarded, allowing for the installation of 360 native plants and two water features.   

    The advisory group of local citizens guiding the project grew to a robust cadre of 16. The handful of core volunteers invested more sweat equity (shoveling, planting, tabling, educating, planning, writing, communicating, fundraising). Volunteer Doug Danforth carried a LOT of fallen rocks into the park for landscaping. Trevor Lauber of the UA Cochise Cooperative Extension Water Wise Program has supported efforts with Water Wise literature, public outreach, and his knowledge of local bird life. Meanwhile, the two lead administrator-gardeners, Jane Gaffer and Carmen Faucon, may or may not have asked themselves: What in the world have we gotten ourselves into?

    A wise person once described “collateral good” to me as: do a good thing, and more good things ripple from it, and even more good things ripple out from those. Project Wildlife, Bisbee is a great example of just such collateral good. While there is still plenty of planning and fundraising to be done, the group has inspired 95 community members to certify their gardens and the Upper Vista Park is well on its way to becoming an outdoor living classroom and demonstration garden eventually to be completed with interpretive signage, water harvesting, and a variety of other special features.

    Given the severity of the pollinator crisis around the globe, community-wide efforts like this one not only stand to support wildlife through an immediate increase in native plants providing nectar, pollen, and larval food sources specifically attuned to native pollinator needs, but they also help to educate the public at large about how they too can get involved. While Bisbee’s population is that of a small town, just approaching 5,000, Cochise County boasts 125,000 residents and Bisbee estimates 300,000 annual visitors.  Soon the main roads into town will share signage indicating that this is a National Wildlife Federation Wildlife Habitat Community and over time the Upper Vista Park will be a living testament as to how we can intentionally garden with local pollinators and other wildlife top of mind.

    This year the Bisbee Bloomers Annual Garden Tour will feature gardens that are all certified wildlife habitats. Early ticket sales will be available at Eventbrite, with tickets available in person the day of the tour in Grassy Park and Vista Park’s Bisbee Saturday Market. There will be live music in many of the gardens.  You can follow the Bisbee Bloomers on Facebook for updates.

    June is National Pollinators Month and Project Wildlife, Bisbee has found a fantastic way to celebrate!

  • May 24, 2023 9:29 AM | Anonymous

    Author: Elise Lange, AWF Communications Manager

    Today is World Tortoise (and Turtle) Day, an annual advocacy day for these amazing animals who are so often threatened. 

    In Arizona alone, there are over 500 species of conservation concern and yes, that’s undoubtedly a concerning number considering that we have 800 different wildlife species. In fact, we are actually in the top 5 states with the highest level of wildlife diversity. 

    The monumental bill, Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, was just recently reintroduced to the 118th Congress and is already being backed by over 10 U.S. senators — both Democratic and Republican, showing once again that this bill has bipartisan support. RAWA, as it’s referred to, would provide states 1.4 billion in funds to take proactive steps to prevent wildlife from becoming endangered. Arizona specifically would receive an estimated $31 million to fund conservation and recovery efforts for our at-risk species. 

    One of the most loved species in Arizona is the Sonoran desert tortoise. Of the U.S. species, 90% of their breeding range is in Arizona. That means that their continued survival — or surthrival (not just surviving, but thriving), as coined by our Conservation Programs Director, Trica — is largely dependent on how they do in Arizona.

    The Sonoran desert tortoise is an incredible animal. Like other reptiles, they are ectothermic, meaning that they regulate their internal body temperature by using the environment around them and changing their behaviors. That’s why it’s so difficult to find this species!

    During the hotter months of the year, they spend the majority of their time hanging out underground where it’s nice and cool. They’ll still be down there in the winter, insulating themselves against the cold. That isn’t to say Sonoran desert tortoises never come out of their shell and emerge from their burrows. They have to eat and reproduce after all!

    Unfortunately, this species isn’t doing as well as they could here. They are threatened and protected under state law because of their population decline and the numerous threats they face. Human development and harassment, habitat loss, invasive vegetation taking over their native foods, and drought are the main threats they face here.

    Another side to this story is the number of Sonoran desert tortoises in captivity. The Arizona Game and Fish Department adopts out hundreds of captive tortoises each year that have been surrendered to the department. Unfortunately, those tortoises cannot simply be released back into the wild — either because they have become used to and rely on human care or because they risk disease transmission to the already declining wild population. 

    All this to say — the Sonoran desert tortoise is an amazing signature species in Arizona and it’s important to understand their threatened status. If you find a wild Sonoran desert tortoise, here’s your need to know:

    -Don’t pick them up or they’ll pee on you! This is completely true: these tortoises defend themselves by emptying their bladder when they’re caught off guard by being handled or touched. This can be life-threatening for them, as they need to find water quickly after exhibiting this behavior.

    -If you’re concerned they might have been someone’s pet, contact the Game and Fish Department or a wildlife rescue organization that houses reptiles.

    -Respect them and keep your distance: we want wildlife to stay wild, and the best way to do that is to watch from afar to avoid interfering with their natural behaviors.

  • May 23, 2023 12:02 PM | Anonymous

    Author: Keith Ashley, AWF Development Director

    2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the National Wildlife Federation’s Gardening for Wildlife program and the 100th anniversary of the Arizona Wildlife Federation’s founding with guidance from Aldo Leopold, famed American conservationist. This reflection is in honor of our great fortune to be celebrating these milestones together.

    May 15, 2023: The sacred datura* in my backyard unfurled its first great funnel flower of the year last night – and I missed it!

    I had been checking the darned thing every evening for days, but it still seemed tightly closed enough yesterday that I assumed it needed one more night to perfect its nectar and pollen … and poison. Fortunately, I was up and out well before dawn today.

    As Aldo Leopold wrote in his brief essay Too Early:

    Getting up too early is a vice habitual in horned owls, stars, geese, and freight trains. Some hunters acquire it from geese, and some coffee pots from hunters. It is strange that of all the multitude of creatures who must rise in the morning at some time, only these few should have discovered the most pleasant and least useful time for doing it.

    When I stepped out back to enjoy a few last moments of darkness, my eyes were drawn immediately to the bright white trumpet beacon of the datura blossom. “What the …?!” was my first thought. And then, as if by reflex, my search began … for the sphinx moths. Not too early in the morning, but perhaps too early in the season.

    When I first read Leopold’s Sand County Almanac as a much younger man, I was struck by the ways in which the conservation challenges of his era mirrored our own, even if there had been many shifts for the worse in the intervening 50 years (and a very few for the better). I was also struck by the fact that absolutely nothing had changed in the magical ways wildlife touches our lives.

    In the middle of last year’s monsoon season, I was out in the yard late one evening nervously holding a rattlesnake watch. Two of them (yes, two VERY BIG ones!) were threatening to take up residence under my tiny bedroom deck. I’m all about gardening for wildlife, but I’m a bit unsure about hosting a rattlesnake farm. And that’s when they appeared, all around me—whizzing, whirring, floating, diving, not two, not three, but a whole host of the largest sphinx moths I’d ever seen—like a sci-fi hybrid between hummingbirds and fruit bats (hummingbats!) – I could feel the excited breeze from their wings all around me.

    By that point in the monsoon, the datura in my garden was gigantic—four feet high, six feet wide—and covered with its perfumy sweet blossoms almost every evening. But this was the first time I had encountered such an enormous species of sphinx moths descending upon it. Mottled black and white with wingspans easily five inches across, they transported me to some unimagined tropical kingdom and created a backyard experience I will never forget.

    Leopold launches his collection of essays with the famous words: “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.”

    The genius of gardening for wildlife is not just the power it gives each of us to support wildlife directly, but the way it makes your home patch—be it balcony or backyard—one of those magical places where the wild things are. Scale up that intentional living, from supporting wild things as an individual to supporting them as an organization, and you have the genius of the Arizona Wildlife Federation.

    Celebrating 50 years of Gardening for Wildlife and 100 years of the Arizona Wildlife Federation (with Aldo Leopold in the mix as well) is a good place for all of us to be.

    *Sacred datura (Datura wrightii/meteloides) also known as jimson weed, toloache grande, belladonna – Large fragrant blossoms of this perennial herb open at night. All parts of this member of the nightshade family are poisonous. Sphinx moths (also known as hawkmoths) pollinate the flowers and use the leaves as a larval food source, which in turn makes the caterpillars (“hornworms”) toxic to predators. Adds interest to wildlife gardens May through October; entirely dormant in winter.

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Protecting wildlife and their habitats through education, inspiration, advocacy, and action since 1923


Arizona Wildlife Federation

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(480) 702-1365


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